Those who took part in this year’s Charter School Principal for a Day program in Jersey City gathered around a table at GP’s Restaurant in November to share their experiences like a family sitting down to Thanksgiving Dinner.
Small in number, they hope to expand the event next year to include more schools in and around Jersey City.
The relatively new program is modeled after the public school version that was reestablished in 2012 with the sponsorship of Silverman, a local developer.
Paul Silverman, who sponsors both the public and charter school programs, said he approached then Acting Superintendent of Jersey City Schools Franklin Walker in 2012 and asked what he – as a local real estate developer – could do to help the school district.
“Superintendent Walker told me to bring back Principal for a Day,” Silverman said.
This was a program that the district had run years earlier but had cut.
“The Board of Education had hired some company to do it,” Silverman said.
Silverman volunteered to organize it and get volunteers from every neighborhood to work in every school.
“It’s a great way to develop friendships, relationships and opportunities,” he said. “So many good things come out of this. You get to know somebody in the police department, you get to know somebody in urban farming, and others.”
An insider’s view
The day provides participants with a close view of the routine operations principals and other facilitators deal with daily, including curriculum, facilities, software, security, and academics.
The public school principal for a day takes place in spring, while the charter school program takes place in fall.
This program invited charter schools in Jersey City and Hoboken to take part. While only a handful took advantage of the program, participants this year said the program provided them with a clearer understanding of how each school works.
While the participants only spent one day in the four schools, each person seemed to come away with a new view and better understanding of the schools and how they share the burden of providing for the educational needs of the city’s kids.
The program is run by The Jersey City & Hoboken Charter Schools Alliance and is designed to allow someone from the public to pair off with a principal in one of the alliance’s charter schools in Hoboken or Jersey City.
The goal of the Charter School Principal for a Day program is to promote local business involvement in local charter schools.
The schools that participated included Learning Community Charter School on Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City, Beloved Community Charter School on Grand Street in Jersey City, Soaring Heights Community Charter School on Romar Avenue in Jersey City, and The Ethical Community Charter School on Broadway in Jersey City.
Those who served as principals for a day shared their experiences with the others, since each school had its own mission and vision for education, each serving as an incubator for a specific educational philosophy.
Meredith Burns, executive director of Art House Productions, served as principal for a day at The Ethical Community Charger School. She said she was amazed at what she learned.
A woman with deep roots in Jersey City with a father who was a fire fighter and a mother a local nurse, Burns said she was very impressed when learning about the school’s ethical system.
The kids are so self aware,” she said. “They spoke beautifully about how they resolve conflict with one another. It was very emotional, actually. They were so were mature about it. They are not avoiding conflict. They understand that conflict is an opportunity to get to know each other better.”
East District Police Captain Nicholas Scerbo said he learned a lot, too from serving as principal at Beloved Community Charter School
“I’ve passed the school many times,” he said.
A native of Jersey City, Scerbo said he went to a Catholic School, which ironically has since become a charter school elsewhere in Jersey City.
A graduate of Rutgers with an accounting degree, he eventually following the footsteps of his father, who is a retired detective in Jersey City, and worked in nearly every aspect of the department during his career.
“We interact a lot with different aspects of the community,” he said, noting that he attends community meetings throughout his district, in an effort to keep communications open and network.
He said by getting out into the neighborhoods, he and other officers get to hear firsthand the concerns of the public, get to meet many of the people who make up daily life, and develop networks that can be used later to help people.
He said he likes meeting with community groups and particularly liked become a principal for a day.
“This was great experience,” he said. “I asked a boat load of questions. I didn’t understand how charter schools worked. I talked about financing and administrative things, adding to my cache of things I know.”
Filling a very real need
Kelley Convery, head dean at Beloved, said she has been with the school since its founding and has been involved with its expansion.
“We reflect Jersey City’s population,” she said. “There are a growing number of young families in Jersey City. Since the city is changing, we have to change, too. We have to be getting better, and I think that if something can be said about Hudson County Charter schools, there is a strong community.”
She said the alliance meets several times during the year to talk about common issues.
“We are public schools, but we do not consider ourselves local schools. But we are not completely separate from public schools either, and we have to work together on things such as kids with special needs.”
Jenny Schrum, director for Youth Programming for City Green Inc. said she was very impressed with Soaring Heights Community Charter School and their emphasis on a healthy diet. Her group believes that the best way to help children develop and grow is through hands-on learning opportunities and to promote healthy eating habits.
“It was a pleasure to go to Soaring Heights and see the healthy diet they provide, it is a great model,” she said. “The kids were happy and well behaved. I almost cried a couple of times.”
Representing Soaring Heights were two of its founders, Jacqueline Quagliana and Joan Incognito. The school was founded and is run by teachers who formerly taught in the public schools and decided to establish their own.
“This is my my 41st year teaching, 20 years in public and 21 at this school,” Incognito said.
Soaring Heights and Learning Community Charter Schools were part of the first wave of charter schools in the state, beginning operations a year after the state legislature passed enabling legislation in 1996.
“We were recently honored as one of the first charter schools,” said Colin Hogan, head of Learning Community Charter School.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.